New plans for German identity card

IdealGovernment's William Heath describes a planned identification card for German citizens that incorporates a pseudonym capability for electronic commerce: 

The German Home Office has confirmed that a new electronic identity card for German citizens will incorporate the use of pseudonyms for secure web access.

According to the plans of the German Home Office, a credit card sized electronic identity card will be introduced in 2009. It will replace the larger, non-electronic identity cards currently in use. “Apart from the usual personal information, the electronic identity card will contain biometric information, in particular digital fingerprints of both index fingers, and additional information for facial recognition”, says secretary of state August Hanning.

Hanning confirmed that the new identity card will contain a pseudonym function. In a leaked letter to Gisela Piltz, a Member of German Parliament for the Liberal Democrats (FDP), Hanning stated that the card could be used as a “passport for the internet” in the future. “The new identity card offers the possibility of an electronic identity proof for E-Government- and E-Business-applications”, writes Hanning.

The central idea is that the individual card number is used to generate a pseudonym that cannot be reconverted mathematically into the original card number. This pseudonym could then be used to register at, for example, eBay, or any other web service that requires personal identification.

I don't yet know the details of how this works.  I would be concerned if the card generates a single pseudonym that remains constant everywhere it is used.   This would still be an “identifier beacon” that could be used to link all your digital activities into a super-profile. Such a profile would be as irresistable to marketers as it would be to organized crime, so we can be pretty sure it would emerge .  If any aspect of this profile is linked to a molecular identity, all of it is.

In a sense, using a pseudonym that ends up creating a super-dossier would be worse than just using an official government identity, since it would create false expectations in the user, breaking the First Law of identity that ensures the transparency of the identity system so the user can control it.

Regardless of the details of the proposal, it is great to see the German government thinking about these issues.  Once you start to look at them, they lead to the requirement to also support “directed identities”.  There are leading academics and policy makers in Germany who are capable of guiding this proposal to safety.  The key here is to take advantage of the new generation of intelligent smart cards, identity selectors and web service protocols.

[Read more on the  e-health Europe site.]

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Kim Cameron

Work on identity.